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Falcons determined to avoid letdown against Lions

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Falcons determined to avoid letdown against Lions

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Thursday was an ugly, rainy day at Atlanta's practice facility - a perfect setting for the Falcons to be reminded they can make sure they don't play another game outdoors this season.

That's added motivation to avoid a letdown in Saturday night's game at Detroit's Ford Field.

The Falcons (12-2) can secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs by beating the Lions. They play their final regular-season game against Tampa Bay next week in the Georgia Dome. The Super Bowl in New Orleans also will be played in a dome.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had a big smile taking about how a win at Detroit would mean there would be no chance of a January game in Seattle's rain or Green Bay's snow.

``That's awesome,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We have a lot to play for. It should be fun.''

The Falcons have painful memories of their last road game, a Dec. 9 loss at Carolina that followed a home win over the Saints.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez said players must respond better to last week's impressive 34-0 win over the Giants.

``Our focus going into that game was the best it's been all year,'' Gonzalez said. ``We have to have that type of effort week in and week out for the rest of the season. That's what good teams do in December, it's what they do in the playoffs, and ultimately Super Bowl championship teams. They have great focus throughout the week because that's what helps you win the game.''

This week's schedule left little time to savor the shutout of New York. Because they play on Saturday night, the Falcons started their practice schedule on Tuesday, their normal off day. Thursday's one-hour practice at the team's indoor facility was like the normal Friday workout.

``We've had times like this before,'' receiver Harry Douglas said Thursday. ``We've had a Thursday night game and a Monday night game, and we don't look at it like a distraction. When we had practice on Tuesday, in my mind it was already Wednesday. I got my mind right on Monday.''

Atlanta's two losses have come on the road - at New Orleans on Nov. 11 and the disappointing 30-20 defeat at Carolina on Dec. 9.

Gonzalez said the loss at Carolina should be a lesson as the Falcons prepare to play a 4-10 Detroit team that has lost six straight games.

``You can't just show up and think you're going to beat a team,'' Gonzalez said. ``Maybe we learned that against Carolina. Maybe that loss was something good for us. It's something that I think we learn from our mistakes and we keep moving forward.''

Weatherspoon said there was no mention of the Carolina game this week.

``No, we didn't go back that far,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We just tried to focus on what we did last week in preparation and we want to kind of imitate that this week. If you practice the right way, you should have a pretty good outing.''

The Falcons would clinch home-field advantage just by splitting their final two regular-season games. They've resisted any suggestion that this isn't a must-win game.

``Don't leave anything to chance,'' said running back Michael Turner. ``We control our own destiny and we want to leave it in our hands.

``I think we learned our lesson from the Carolina game. We are not taking anything for granted. We've still got work to do. We've still got things to get better at. We are going to take this like they are going to give us their best shot. We know that. Everybody tends to play better in prime time.''

NOTES: WR Roddy White (right knee) had limited participation in practice after behind held out on Wednesday. SS William Moore (hamstring) has not practiced all week and could miss his third straight game. Reserve DE Cliff Matthews (hamstring) also was held out. DT Jonathan Babineaux (ribs), OT Tyson Clabo (thigh) and CB Christopher Owens (hamstring) had limited participation.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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